The Independent Florida Alligator

Local pirate stations skeptical of FCC licensing 

By Jenny Williams 
Alligator Writer 

Although the Federal Communications Commission agreed last week to consider licensing low-power FM stations, members of Free Radio Gainesville said they will remain skeptical until the policies that could make them official become concrete.

Free Radio Gainesville, a pirate radio station that ran on 40 watts, was shut down by the FCC on Nov. 30.

Low-power stations have been illegal for 20 years as a way to financially benefit commercial FM stations.

The FCC proposed on Thursday to give community-oriented radio stations opportunities to broadcast at low-watt levels.

The FCC is moving in the right direction, but the reason behind the change is questionable, said Howard Rosenfeld, a member of Free Radio Gainesville.

"They're not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts," Rosenfeld said. "A huge movement has been building for a long time. It's because of the work that groups like Free Radio Gainesville have done."

But Jim Robertson, general manager of 92.5 and 95.5 WIND and 93.7 K Country, said low-power licenses would hurt commercial stations like his.

"If they're allowing just anyone to go buy equipment and go on the air, there is going to be a serious problem," Robertson said.

He said interference from new low-power stations is his main concern, an issue the FCC is looking into.

"All they're going to do is create interference. In theory, it's admirable, but you're penalizing people who have been operating for decades."

Rosenfeld said low-watt stations do not interfere with local stations.

"They're really against it because we will take their listeners away from them. The radio in Gainesville is awful," Rosenfeld said.

He said Free Radio plays lesser-known songs by lesser-known artists. Local musicians that record and produce their own music also benefit from a non- commercial station.

"The music industry prides itself on playing hits to promote artists and make them stars," he said.

But Robertson said the low-power licenses would serve between a 1- to 8-mile radius, while most commercial stations serve a 30- to 40-mile radius.

Part of the FCC proposals indicate that pirate radio operators - who operate without a license - could now have a tougher time getting one.

Rosenfeld said Free Radio went against the law by going on the air because the law is wrong.

Robertson called the recent proposals "vague," but said they open up the air waves for groups of all beliefs.

"What if a Klu Klux Klan wants a station? It might happen," he said.

The FCC said low-power licenses would target community organizations and churches. Rosenfeld said while Free Radio is off the air now, it has remained organized to educate other groups interested in pioneering a non-commercial radio station.

"They might have an opportunity to start a station themselves," Rosenfeld said.

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